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‘Better Call Saul’ Review: ‘Breathe’ Ups the Stakes to Lethal In a Tense and Tough Episode

Season 4 Episode 2 reminds us that safety and security in this world are a luxury.

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill - Better Call Saul _ Season 4, Episode 2 - Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

“Better Call Saul.”

Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for “Better Call Saul” Season 4 Episode 2, “Breathe.”]

Case Summary

We begin with a reminder that when a cartel man goes down, he is not forgotten — watching Don Hector get examined by some of the Salamanca men, it’s clear there’s real interest in ensuring that whatever led to his current medical condition was not the result of outside influences (and the fact that they’re suspicious makes it very clear that Nacho’s paranoia was more than justified).

Meanwhile, we get a deeper understanding of Mike’s motivations for invading a Madrigal facility in last week’s episode, as he and Lydia have a face-to-face encounter that ends on a slightly chilling note: “At the moment, you have Gus Fring’s respect. I’d want to keep that if I were you.”

Plus, Jimmy’s doing his best to move on following Chuck’s funeral, hitting the job hunt on an intense level, but as much as he might put on a positive attitude for Kim, the emotions boiling under the surface can’t be underestimated. This becomes alarmingly clear when his successful hard sale for a copier company job ends in him deliberately torpedoing the opportunity. And after that, we see Jimmy in the early stages of scheming — his worst instincts coming out in force. Who Jimmy is in this post-Chuck era may be a truly worrisome thing — if only there was a new name we could assign to him…

Finally, there’s Nacho. Poor, poor Nacho.

The Least Legal Move

A reminder, kids, that murder is bad. Drug dealing? Also bad. But as we see this week, Nacho’s efforts to escape the quicksand that is cartel life have only served to bury him deeper — and not only that, but cost him a friend. The only thing worse than watching Arturo die in front of his eyes is likely whatever happens next for him.

The hardest thing about this ending is this simple equation: Everything Nacho has done up until now has been in the pursuit of freedom. And now, Gus “owns” him. It’s true that Nacho didn’t enter into this life without at least some awareness of what it would mean. But now, what’s in store for him is a terrifying thing to contemplate.

Michael Mando as Nacho Varga, Juan Carlos Cantu as Nacho's Father - Better Call Saul _ Season 3, Episode 10 - Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

“Better Call Saul.”

Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictur

Achievements in Cinematography

One of the best parts of watching “Better Call Saul” is the way in which this show can surprise us with the way it uses the camera, from the most complicated tracking shots to a simple over-the-head look down. The way in which director Michelle MacLaren (always brilliant) captured Gus’s men sneaking up on Nacho and Arturo is just staggering in its clean brutal impact; an important reminder that in this world, you can’t trust any moment to be safe.

Oh, That’s Right, It’s a Period Piece

Hardly a big deal, but the screen time devoted to the technology that used to be used for replicating paper copies in this episode is beautiful for how it represents the show’s nostalgia for an era not so long ago. In the year 2018, Neff Copiers has either pivoted gracefully to new technology or found itself out of business;we want to hope for the former, but the latter feels, tragically, far more likely.

Brotherly Love

Lest we worry that Chuck wouldn’t find ways to be cruel to his brother from beyond the grave, here comes the terms of his will, which not only offer up some interesting trivia (the exact amount that one needs to leave someone in your will, in order to legally say “fuck you”) but a reminder of just what a thorough jerk Chuck could be. Points to Kim for acknowledging it out loud, and not shying away from standing up to her former boss — and very well deserved.

Lady Sings the Blues

First off, as established chroniclers of the ways in which Jimmy and Kim express physical affection between each other, IndieWire is required to report on the fact that HOLY CRAP, did you see the way Kim jumped Jimmy????

But beyond that, Kim is so lovely in her deep devotion and dedication to Jimmy’s best interests — the way in which she chews out Howard for the way he treated Jimmy is a beautiful thing, as is the ways in which she chooses to defend him.

On The Journey From Jimmy to Saul

Jimmy is still paying lip service to the premise of finding real stable work, and the fact that he does such a good job of selling himself to the fine folks at Neff Copiers is proof that his skills as a salesman are legit. But it’s hard to say what facet of his personality that rant about how his one-time potential bosses are “suckers” comes from. The anger he has at these two men, for being so easily duped, either comes from a place of pity or a place of pride. Either way, it’s a bad look and a dark glimpse of the future.

Giancarlo Esposito as Gustavo "Gus" Fring - Better Call Saul _ Season 4, Episode 2 - Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

“Better Call Saul.”

Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Best Quote

“I decide. What he deserves. No one else.”
— Gus

The fact that Gus is actively pulling strings behind the scenes to control Hector’s fate is key to understanding all the complicated forces in play in the cartel politics unfolding before us — especially since it speaks to how, while Gus may be on the surface deeply pragmatic, he still carries within him no shortage of vengeful rage.

“It’s From a Movie!”

Like a true cinephile, Kim has no issues with correcting Jimmy on the official title of the third film in history’s most famous shark movie saga: “It’s ‘Jaws 3-D,’ but Cagney wins this one.” The film she does agree to, “White Heat,” is one of the great classic gangster movies. Like many such films, it doesn’t have the happiest ending.

In Conclusion, Your Honor

In some respects, this is a quieter episode than most — until the final sequence, which adds to the show’s relatively small body count (to date) and reminds us that yeah, if the character isn’t an established presence on “Breaking Bad,” his or her safety is not a given.

Much of “Breathe” is all about characters just trying to move forward, make a path for themselves that might lead them to safety and security. Unfortunately, for so many of them, that may be an impossible dream, especially as “Saul” encroaches on the era of Walter White.

Grade: A-

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